By Joel B. Pollak
Dr. Drew Pinsky said Friday that Los Angeles faces an imminent outbreak of bubonic plague because of the growth of the homeless population and the failure of state and local authorities to deal with rodent problems.
Dr. Drew made his comments during a Periscope broadcast by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, who has become a popular political pundit with a daily live audience of thousands of people.
Dr. Drew told Adams that he had predicted the recent typhus outbreak in Los Angeles, which was carried by rats, transferred by fleas to pets, and from pets to humans.
Bubonic plague, Dr. Drew said, like typhus, is endemic to the region, and can spread to humans from rodents in a similar fashion.
Though commonly recognized as the medieval disease responsible for the Black Death in the fourteenth century, which killed one-third of the population of Europe, the last outbreak of bubonic plague in the U.S. was nearly a century ago, from 1924 to 1925 — also in Los Angeles. Only a “heroic effort” by doctors stopped it, Dr. Drew recalled, warning that conditions were perfect for another outbreak of the plague in the near future.
Los Angeles is one of the only cities in the country, Dr. Drew said, that has no rodent control plan. “And if you look at the pictures of Los Angeles, you will see that the homeless encampments are surrounded by dumps. People defecate there, they throw their trash there, and the rats just proliferate there.”
Moreover, he said, homeless people were defecating directly into city drains, which flowed to the Pacific Ocean. “We have the sewage of 60,000 people hitting the ocean every day,” he said.
Though there were adequate financial resources, Dr. Drew said, homelessness would not be solved by building more housing, because the fundamental problems were mental illness and drug addictions, which created an “attachment to this lifestyle” on the streets.
The city had been successful at absorbing hundreds of thousands of “undocumented immigrants,” Dr. Drew observed, which showed that the focus on housing was a “hoax.”
But changes in mental health policy — partly as a result of public reactions to films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which was harshly critical of mental health institutions — had made it much more difficult to commit people to institutional care.
Dr. also said that prison reform initiatives, such as Proposition 47 of 2014– which reduced sentences, but without improvements to rehabilitation — had also played a role by letting more criminals out on the street, some of whom joined the homeless population.
And efforts at relocating the homeless — either to treatment or to prison — ran into lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), whom Dr. Drew described as “do-gooders” without any idea about how to solve the underlying problem.
“How many people must die before you change your philosophy?” Dr. Drew asked, rhetorically.
Some, Dr. Drew said, said that the situation in Los Angeles was approaching a national emergency that would require the intervention of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross, and the National Guard. He said that he himself had not reached that conclusion yet, but that he was “ready to pull that trigger if we start to see the diseases that I think we are going to.”
Recently, President Donald Trump threatened to intervene in California’s growing homelessness crisis, prompting L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Governor Gavin Newsom to push back — without offering any solutions.
“I have a government that is ignoring the basic needs of human civilization,” Dr. Drew said, exasperated.
A recent count of the homeless population revealed that it had risen 12% over the last year, to nearly 60,000 people. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who promised to end homelessness when he first ran for office in 2013, has failed to deal with the problem despite local tax hikes to provide additional revenues. He now faces a recall effort over his failure.